Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pune Street Scene VII: Pashan’s (Very) Old Hanuman Idol and (Very) Old Bakul Tree

When I first landed in Pune more than twenty years ago, I was recommended to do my fresh vegetable shopping at Pashan Gaon’s vegetable market that was held on the streets of the Pashan Gaon. Pashan was still considered a village (Gaon) at that time. For that matter, the centre of Pune city is still considered to be Pune gaon to the older residents.

This blog will be about some of the wonders of Pashan which seems to have been ignored and which can ill afford to be ignored any longer. Indeed, Pashan's claim to glory may be as old as Puneshwar (which may be true even if I say so myself) and certainly older than the glory brought by the Peshwas.

I did not know this till I started on this blog. The story certainly does not end with this blog. Some of my surprises concerning Pashan is given here. The blog, needless to say is long like other blogs; I was biding my time between difficult to publish scientific papers.

Click on images to expand for a better viewpoint.

Pashan and some of its history.

Pashan which means stone in Marathi/Sanskrit could have been named after the rock quarries on its hills (such as tekdi behind the bungalow quarters of the National Chemical Laboratory) which produce the rare fluorine-containing apophyllite among its more exotic gemstones. I have not found any early (before 1700) reference to Pashan as a quarry, although there have been early European interest in locating quarries where Indian gemstones are found. Pashan is the only quarry in the world to produce the beautiful mesolite crystals especially those growing on apophyllite (see figure above) which is perhaps the closest that one can get to an image of a crystallized metasatable superbeing. This is probably because of the peculiar and uniques geological history of the Deccan trap in which Pune is located. Mesolite and apophyllite grow from a watery solution when in contact with ancient lava flows. These crystals are a consequence perhaps of the cosmic accident that led to the separation of the Deccan region from its African mother.

A few years ago, while researching for a blog, I came across a Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, Volume XVIII, Part II, Poona, printed at the Government Central Press, 1885. There is mention of Pashan as a village on a feeder (Ramnadi) to the Mula river six miles west of Poona. At the time I first came to Pune, Pashan was famous for its Lake which the Gazetteer informs me was a reservoir made in 1867-68 built at a cost of ₤16,700 ( when it was Rs 10 to a ₤; at independence Rs 13.3 was a ₤; today it is Rs 73.7 for a ₤!). The water from this reservoir was sent to the (Gun?) Powder Works in Kirkee and must have been of tremendous use to the British for maintaing their authority. The improved supply of water to Pashan must have improved their prosperity because of which the Pashan farmer paid the highest tax for channeled water. In Part III of the above-mentioned Gazetteer it is mentioned that Pashan had a population of 913 in 1885.

The important aspect of the above information as far as the blog is concedrned is the bund on the river Ramnadi which played perhaps a much more vital role for the history of Pashan. Of particular interest is the building of a Someshwar mandir on the banks of this Ramnadi.

I was researching on Buddhist influences on Indian religion and I was impressed by the possibility that the idol at Tirupathi was a Buddhist idol. The idol at Tirupati was found on an ant-hill. It was on searching the net for idols and ant-hills that I came across the Gazetteer and its contents. The Gazetteer writes “The (Pashan) village is pleasantly placed in a beautiful grove on a feeder (Ramnadi) of the Mula river. The common story of the cowherd watching his milk-less cow and finding it feeding a serpent who lived in an ant-hill is told of Pashan. The cowherd dug the ant-hill, and finding five lings, built a shrine, called it Someshvar, and became its ministrant. The village of Pashan was built near the shrine and a temple was built by the mother of Shahu (1708-1749).”

The Shahu referred to here is Chatrapati Shahu, the grandson of Shivaji, the truly great Maratha warrior as far as a people’s acknowledgment is concerned. The mother of Shahu is Yesu bai, wife of Sambhaji who succeeded Shivaji.

As it turns out --- for at least a phonetic connection to the Ganguly name --- Shahu was born in the Gangoli fort at Konkan.

The biography Life and times of Shivaji II: Chatrapati Shahu, 1680-1749 A.D by Mukund Wamanrao Burway would portray Sambhaji as a villainous drunkard and Chatrapati Shahu as a godsend to restore the family pride of Shivaji’s Bhonsle family.

In a small way, because of Yesubai, the Someshwar shrine has a historic link with the establishment of the Peshwas of Pune.

As far as Poona is concerned it was Balaji Viswanath, the Peshwa of Shahu, who was instrumental in running the Marathi state for Shahu. Shahu ran his state from Satara and the Peshwa made Pune effectively the (Advanced study in the history of modern India 1707-1813 by J. L. Mehta) headquarters of the Maratha state for all practical purposes. “After establishing himself at Poona, (Balaji Vishwanath) went out on a whirlwind tour of the Maratha dominions, restoring order and adopting measures for the consolidation of Shahu’s power. When Balaji Vishwanath died suddenly, Shahu declared that Baji Rao, the eldest son of Balaji Vishwanath would be come the next Peshwa and senapati.”

Why Yesubai visited the Someshwar shrine at Pashan is not clear to ordinary mortals like me. Yesubai must have had a remarkable life to have her husband decapitated by Aurangazeb's men and then to have been imprisoned with Aurangazeb's family for twenty years or so; to see her son brought up by Aurangazeb's daughter whom her husband Sambhaji would marry as a pre-condition for surrender; because of which this daughter would lovingly bring up the son and call him Shahu; and who influenced in the decision making that would make Shahu a king of the Marathas, a Chatrapati.

Why after all this did Yesubai visit Pashan? Was it because of the cool grove of trees by the river where she could have peace of mind? So which was the more important historical incident --- the visit of Yesubai and her attendant lords? or was the beautiful tree grove that attracted Yesubai? Was the important historical fact a consequence of the shrine which was linked to the worry of the cowherd about his milkless cow feeding the serpents on an anthill by a river?

Did Yesubai's visit establish Pashan as a village or a gaon?

Before the temple took up its present form in 1780 the fourth Peshwa, Madhavrav (1761 - 1772) , would hire Brahmins to pray for water at the spot. When the Brahmins succeeded (the Gazetteer writes) he made a grant of £330 (Rs. 3300) which is still (at least in 1885) continued with the Brahmins being chosen in batches from Pune every eleventh day to offer prayers every morning and evening, each being paid an handsome amount of £16 4s. (Rs. 162).

Bliss was it at that Peshwa dawn to be a praying Brahmin!

The Mahadev or Someshwar Mandir at Pashan.

The temple, which is enclosed by a high wall, is a heavy sombre-looking square structure built of stone with a brick roof. Two verandas and halls or mandaps were added to the main building by one Shivram Bhau about 1780 and the building now measures 36' x 17' X 31'. In front is a bull or Nandi and a lamp-pillar or dipmal. A flight of steps leads from the temple to the river bed where is a square bathing place called chakratirth with steps on four sides. In a year of threatened drought the fourth Peshwa Madhavrav (1761-1772) engaged Brahmans to offer prayers at the temple, and when their prayers were heard, he made a grant of a sum of £330 (Rs. 3300) which is still continued. The Brahmans, who are chosen in batches every eleventh day in Poona, besides board and lodging receive each £16 4s. (Rs. 162). They offer prayers from morning to eleven and again in the afternoon. The permanent staff consists of a cook, a clerk, a storekeeper, a Ramoshi, a watchman, and a Kamathi. This could account for the living quarters within the mandir complex.

There is no other mention I could find in the net on whether Yesubai visited the same spot where the temple is located and whether she built a temple there or in, what is now, Pashan gaon.

The milk-less cow feeding serpents in an ant-hill is not a story that seems to be now remembered in Pashan.

Nevertheless the temple complex of yore must have been a “beautiful grove” which one visited and was charmed enough to build shrines there or nearby. Pictures of a temple complex are not much changed and there are rather extensive photographs taken of the spot in the blog by Abhijit Rajadhakshya in and in

The purpose of this blog is not o describe the temple complex as it now stands. It will require a few more visits and research.

What seems to be more important to me is to speculate on what it might have been. Whe I asked someone who obviously lived there, he said that it is 900 years old. He did not say 800 to 1000 years old.

Maruti of Pashan

When I walked down the steps into the temple complex among the first thing I saw was a man worshipping at the feet of a figure which was painted hideously/shabbily with what could have been thought of as a saffron colour. It was that of a typical hanuman or so I thought at first glance. It was huge, being about seven feet tall and four to five feet wide. It was the figure of Hanuman.

Quite coincidentally there was a newspaper item at this time regarding a discovery of a 6' by 3.5' idol of Hanuman in the bed of the Muthaq river near Sangam bridge. The discovered figure had a bell on its tail, carried a conch, had a dagger at its waist ("which meant it was worshiped by warriors").It is thought to be 250 years old. According to this newspaper report there are six hanuman figures of this size in Pune including those in Nanapeth, Chaturshringhi hill and Pashan's Someshwar mandir.

The Pashan Someshwar Hanuman (Wikimapia calls it Mahadev Mandir) has no conch, no dagger and no bell on its tail. Hanumanji is also quite unlike the hanuman images normally seen elsewhere when the mouth is closed. The images of hanuman in south-eastern countries have their mouths usually open as if they are laughing or mocking or being aggressive.

I am not familiar with the figure of Hanuman that I saw in this mandir. Some of the typical hanuman images on stone that I have seen are shown in figure. A tail can probably be seen hanging docilely in the 11th century figure on the left. The one in the middle, from Belur, possibly of recent vintage and is of vishnu origin judging from the namaam on its forehead. It should be of the warrior type looking at the bell at the end of its tail. The hanuman on the right is of shiva origin considewring the horizontal bibhuti marks all over its body. The last has the typical twisted tuft of hair (kudumi) of an orthdox brahmin; it also has, typical of a happy monkey, what looks like a bunch of bananas at the end of its tail. All the monkeys from India have a loin cloth for their modesty.

I must say, that in my first limited search and with my limited knowledge, I could not find one on the net a hanuman iconography similar to the one in Pashan, with its open mouth, and two fingers clasping a flower over its chest, and its right hand holding up its tail over it head. I found even an image of hanuman in an uncommon buddha-like padmasana pose within six-corenered star yantra in the Yantroddhara (after yantra) Anjaneya (another name for Hanuman) Temple at Hampi which would suggest an early Buddhist connection to the image and a probable vsishnavite subversion of a buddha image unless the original buddha was hanuman.

Anything is possible in India?

I searched for anjaneya, son of anjana a beauty from the monkey people and vayu the wind god. I could not find any iconography for anjaneya that matched the image at Pashan.

A search for maruti was made next. It slowly turned out to be the more successful. The initial hits showed human like figures with a long tail. The one at Sajjenagar near Satara showed the figure carrying a mace with his left leg on a prostrate human figure. The one at Zendewadi off Saswad road near Divey had maruti with a Vishnu symbol trampling a lying human figure with folded hands and shaivite symbols. The one at Chaphal (Satara) shows a figure similar to that at Pashan and trampling a human figure crouching with folded hands and with shaivite marking on the forehead.

I guess this is where the vaishnavites started showing their supremacy over shaivites by their symbols on hanuman --- at least in the area around Satara in Maharashtra.

These caste marks could not be found on the Pashan figure, so that one could expect the pashan image to be created before the vaishnavite-shaivite conflicts.

A more exhaustive search of the net led me to which gave me many more images derived from hanuman as maruti. All of them have the vaishnavite symbol on their forehead which they must now do if the followers of Ram Mandir are to maintain their history-based stand and especially if these followers are to be appeased. The Pashan hanuman is probably before these times. He was probably installed when the human image of a god was not the main source of income for sustaining temples of worship or to sustain a god-credibility.

One could nevertheless ask "When was the hanuman image positioned in Pashan?" The Hanuman image, two nandis and the shivling are in a straight line. This is unusual but there are records fr such an alignment as in the Ramnagiri hills on the waz from Chennai to Tirupati * What makes the Pashan mandir unique perhaps is that there are two nandis in the straight line between Hanuman and the shivling.
I dont know if anyone knows.
The cowherd had discovered a panchalinga. There does not seem to be any indicator of the panchalinga_here. Maybe the original nandi was placed before the original panchalinga. This original lingam got lost or was placed in another temple? When Yesubai visited the place and a new shrine made was the second nandi and the new, conventional (mono) lingam installed?.

One cannot guess which came first, the hanuman or the shivling, in the present complex?

My guess is the Hanuman came earlier than the present shivling.

So how old is the hanuman?

There is another Someshwar mandir in Raviwar peth which is considered to be one of the older temples of Pune. There is also an image of hanuman (fig below middle). This image is much smaller than that in Pashan. I could not quite make out what was at the end of its tail. The head-priest informed me that the hanuman image is the only one of its kind in its iconography. Not surprising since we Indians, bz our nature, do not care about being consistent unless one is a law abiding ram bhakt (perhaps).

On going through some photos of the chennakesava temple in Belur, I noticed on one of its front walls (fig on top, left) a laughing monkey with its tail over its head (see enlarged view inset). I dont know whether this monkey is supposed to be hanuman. But it seems to be a rare open-mouthed monkey. This open-mouthed image(, different from the one referred to above, has no bell on its tail and has Buddha-like curls of hair. I guess it is on what I call the "remnant" wall of Belur where fragments of various lateral layers of temple architecture and sculpture can be found (see my previous blog. There are no caste marks on this hanuman and the figure is not trampling anybody, so, I guess again, that this figure is the older of the two hanuman figures from Belur in this blog. Since the Chennakesava temple started more than 900 years ago one could conclude that the Hanuman at the Pashan mandir could be from that time ...

The resident of the Pashan mandir could have been right when he told me that the temple was 900 years old, even if he may not be convinced about it himself.

An old Bakul Tree

Before I go to the old Bakul tree at the Pashan mandir I must point out an old tamarind tree that seems to have been not noticed in the net.

Pashan village proper has a central part in which there is a place where people gather for their prayers and their village ceremonies; there is an old house built on a platform of huge (by modern standards) hand-cut stones on which stands an obvious old house built with what seems to be unbaked clay brick stones.

Next to this old house is a huge tamarind tree which must have marked the centre of the village for I do not how many years. The diameter of this tree (as the picture below would indicate) is easily close to or greater than 2.5 meteres or eight feet.
Tamarind trees are usually kept outside a village boundary in some places because of the belief that ghosts live in it. This old tamarind tree seems to be benign in this matter. The tree and its platforrm is used in several ways by the people of Pashan village.

Old tamarind trees figure frequently on the net. Some of the pictures from the net of such trees are given below.A two-hundred-year-old tamarind tree from Thailand (now associated with a restaurant) is shown on the top left. On the bottom left is a five-hundred year old tamarind tree (from carbon dating) in Surola village of Chapal Nawabganjin Bengal, while a painting of a 400 year old Tamarind tree near the Sangam at Allahabad is shown at bottom left of the picture below (see

By these standards the tamarind tree in Pashan would be more than three hundred years old in which case it will predate Yeasubai's visit.

I did look around for signs of an old tree that could be associated with the temple. There was a banyan (vad; it looked to me to be a cluster fig tree or ficus racemosa) tree with signs of tying thread around it (see Figure below left) as married ladies do 108 times during vad purnima in May-June. Behind this tree is the living quarters associated with the middle of the eighteenth century (see earlier).

There was another huge tree (Fig above, middle) which at first glance I thought was a tamarind tree similar to the one in the centre of Pashan gaon. The stem of the tree was much larger than the spread of an average man (fig above, left inset). A closer examination of the tree showed it to be different from the tamarind tree. A man there said that it was a bakul tree. The very sound of bakul stirs the cockles (cockles is the wrong word for a bengali who does not really care for sea food; I guess the good equivalent is ilish maacher jhaal) of a bengali's heart or the womb, say, under the shade of the bakul tree. My favourite verse, of course, is from tagore's kalmrigya simply because I was blessed by two happy sisters and two happy brothers. You cannot translate the songs into English. One transliteration ( has a part that reads like this
... come and look brother!
Run to me and look at our bokul trees …
like a row of smiles,
How many flowers have blossomed !
The flowers rolling under these trees,
Come to me, run to me … but do take care not to bruise them under your feet.

The bokul tree can last very long and can be strong enough to be called bullet-wood tree. It probably lives very long because of this strength. A very old bakul tree (fig below top left)is a tourist attraction in antpur (Hooghly district, where I was born: bengalis have a nasal intonation when they say aat for eight) so that antpur means eight villages. There is a tree (called the siddha bakul tree, This tree is believed (among believers) to have been planted by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (15th century) in Jagannath Puri which is now venerated (Fig below middle and right) as a spiritual tree.

Pashan has suddenly come alive for me. The new high´-rise buildings have crushed the rare stones that probably gave Pashan its name. The river which now has a name had brooks and groves that have long since gone. So have the cowherds. So have most of the trees. The cows have to fend for themselves and in rainy weather sit on the new roads which are the only dry places they have.

These roads carry moneyed soul-less soles working for the yankee dollar and rootless in their homes.

With every long funeral procession of a Pashan villager, one more link to older root ends.


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Glad to see such old hanuman idols.. hanuman chalisa